As far back as I can remember, he had always shuffled as he walked. I watched and knew as he passed that he would somehow make fun of me and ruthlessly tease me or pop his teeth out just to scare me. I was fascinated by his bottle collection, the variety and size of his garden, the old coins he so often sifted through, and his stories. He had a “gun room” of countless collectibles and I, being a girl, was not allowed to enter. I didn’t really want to, even though my brothers were often escorted and allowed to croon over priceless items not only collected over the years, but saved from wars.
My grandfather, Ray Hamlin, served in the United States Army during World War II. He was proud of his service but to my recollection rarely spoke of it. I do, however, remember him telling, in a pained voice, about a friend who was killed while standing right next to him. I knew he had been through a terrible time and that as a result, he had been changed forever. But it was his duty and he never complained or renounced the actions of the war of which he was a part. Post-war, he returned to his wife (my grandmother) and their little girl (my mother) and fathered two more sons, my uncles – both of whom subsequently survived military service of their own. One uncle even went on to serve with the elite Green Berets. My father served for a time in the National Guard; there is an ingrained sense of military pride and gratitude in my family.
My message today is a simple message out to any and all those who sacrificed life or limb, self or mind, fear or pride. Thank you. Because of your service, I will never know the tragedies many others have known throughout time. I will sleep soundly tonight in a bed protected by four walls and the freedoms I so often take for granted. I will start a summer with certainty instead of hopeless hope and I will raise my children in a place where they can walk safely down the road and feel free to shake the hands of neighbors of any gender or orientation, race or religion.
May this recognition and fortune be yours, as well.
Take care and live wisely.